NSA tapped 2 million dutch phone calls in one month

So it turns out the NSA managed to intercept and tap some two million Dutch phone calls in just a month. Does this come as a surprise to anyone? Our own government is already far too keen to listen in to us and is obliging telecom companies and internet providers to keep traffic data for at least six months. The Americans were supposedly doing this as part of the War on Terror, but it seems politicians, civil servants and various commercial bigwigs were also tapped. Again, not suprising that once a capability to this is in place, it will be used for other purposes.

What’s more, does anybody actually think the NSA has stopped tapping phone calls here? Or believe the Dutch government is all that keen on getting them to stop? Our secret services and police are thick as thieves with the yanks anyway; they don’t care, they just care it came out.

Net Neutrality enacted in Holland

Some good news from the Netherlands for a change:

On 8 May 2012 The Netherlands adopted crucial legislation to safeguard an open and secure internet in The Netherlands. It is the first country in Europe to implement net neutrality in the law. In addition, it adopted provisions protecting users against disconnection and wiretapping by providers. Digital rights movement Bits of Freedom calls upon other countries to follow the Dutch example.


In addition, the law includes an anti-wiretapping provision, restricting internetproviders from using invasive wiretapping technologies, such as deep packet inspection (DPI). They may only do so under limited circumstances, or with explicit consent of the user, which the user may withdraw at any time. The use of DPI gained much attention when KPN admitted that it analysed the traffic of its users to gather information on the use of certain apps. The law allows for wiretapping with a warrant.

Moreover, the law includes a provision ensuring that internet providers can only disconnect their users in a very limited set of circumstances. Internet access is very important for functioning in an information society, and providers currently could on the basis of their terms and conditions disconnect their users for numerous reasons. The provision allows for the disconnection in the case of fraud or when a user doesn’t pay his bills.

There are some specific Dutch clauses to the bill. The bill prohibits filtering of internet all together, providers cannot block any website or service whatsoever, no more blocking of Skype or Youtube on mobile phones just because it costs the providers money. But what it does allow is belief based filtering: there are a few providers who provide internet connections for e.g. Christians who’d rather not be confronted with the wicked outside and those are still legal. Which is as it should be.

The important thing is that no provider is now able to block services or websites they don’t like.

Dutch government wants immigration razzias

The newest brainfart of our supported by bigots rightwing government is to throw a bone to those bigots by imposing a quota on the police to catch at least 4800 “illegal” immigrants. Many mayors, as the heads of police in their districts, are less than enthusiastic about this idea. After all, as the Amsterdam mayor said, everybody was outraged when the police had a quota on fining bicyclists for broken tail lights…

And it’s not as if illegal immigration is all that big a problem in the Netherlands anyway; we’ve made ourselves less than appealing to anybody who isn’t white, “western” and preferably rich.

Meanwhile, continuing on the same theme, one of the ministries that’s most likely to have its budget slash to the bone once the government has made up its mind how much and where to cut is that of economic development aid, as Wilders’ PVV is dead set against spending money on foreigners. Something that worried Bill Gates, currently the world’s most generous philantrope as he’s attempts to work off his bad Windows karma, enough to call on the government in an interview with Dutch radio to not implement these cuts. It’s yet another great advertisment for the Netherlands, coming after last month’s anti-Polish website set up by the PVV. If you had any illusions that Holland is still a liberal, tolerant country, this should disabuse you of them…

Liberal paternalism and the burqa

I want to highlight part of a comment Alex made at a recent post:

Strangely, I’m strongly in favor of the burqa ban, which you referred to as foulness. My philosophical reasoning here is strongly affected by my emotions and the way I was brought up. I was brought up as a strongly conservative Christian, and sent to Christian schools my entire life, including boarding school in high school, and the dress codes were very strict. I look back on my entire childhood as abuse and torture, that affected me absolutely as much as the beatings. Given that most “women” are expected to start wearing these costumes at puberty, when they are not in control of any part of their lives, is giving too much control to parents. I know this raises issues of what an adult woman can choose for herself, but the adult women I know in any kind of conservative religion are mad and usually poor or no education which would enable them to have the economic freedom to choose, and they are kept from making real outside social connections which might offer them the support to make real choices.

As he himself acknowledges, this is a fine example of paternalism in action, where you’re so convinced these women wearing burqas need to be delivered from their oppression that you’re willing to send them to jail for it. This sort of attitude has a not very proud history on the left (*cough*eugenics*cough* and we should be very careful with it. For a start, just because your reason for wanting to ban the burqa is all meant in the best interests of its wearers, it doesn’t mean that the people actively trying to do this are motivated by anything more noble than a spot of Muslim bullying. Modern bigotry often hides behind a phony concern for “western” values and liberties.

Furthermore and quite obviously, a burqa ban denies agency to the very women who we are supposedly trying to liberate from their oppression, by making it clear that they cannot be trusted to make the right choice on their own. A burqa ban also supposed that the view of the burqa as a symbol of male oppression of women is the only correct one and that women cannot choose to wear it for any reason other than that somebody is forcing them. It therefore denies the existence of any woman who has made that choice for religious or other reasons. Finally, it also supposes that “we” know what’s best for “them”, when it may very well be that the burqa is just a minor issue or no issue at all in the lives of most Muslim women living in the Netherlands.

A burqa ban also means that those women who wear them for religious reasons are forced to choose between the law and their religion, never a happy occurrence, while those who are forced into it through social pressure or their evil husbands will have other tensions to worry about…

Let’s not forget also that the number of women who wear the full burqa, rather than just a headscarf, is very low: probably less than twohundred in the entire country. Not really a “problem” we need a law for, in other words.

French burqa ban leads to more racism

Is this what the current Dutch government wants for our country too?

In April, France introduced a law against covering your face in public. Muslim women in full-face veils, or niqab, are now banned from any public activity including walking down the street, taking a bus, going to the shops or collecting their children from school. French politicians in favour of the ban said they were acting to protect the “gender equality” and “dignity” of women. But five months after the law was introduced, the result is a mixture of confusion and apathy. Muslim groups report a worrying increase in discrimination and verbal and physical violence against women in veils. There have been instances of people in the street taking the law into their hands and trying to rip off full-face veils, of bus drivers refusing to carry women in niqab or of shop-owners trying to bar entry. A few women have taken to wearing bird-flu-style medical masks to keep their face covered; some describe a climate of divisiveness, mistrust and fear. One politician who backed the law said that women still going out in niqab were simply being “provocative”.

Ahmas, 32, French, a divorced single mother of a three-year-old daughter, puts her handbag on the table and takes out a pepper spray and attack alarm. She doesn’t live on the high-rise estates but on a quiet street of semi-detached houses. The last time she was attacked in the street a man and woman punched her in front of her daughter, called her a whore and told her to go back to Afghanistan. “My quality of life has seriously deteriorated since the ban. In my head, I have to prepare for war every time I step outside, prepare to come up against people who want to put a bullet in my head. The politicians claimed they were liberating us; what they’ve done is to exclude us from the social sphere. Before this law, I never asked myself whether I’d be able to make it to a cafe or collect documents from a town hall. One politician in favour of the ban said niqabs were ‘walking prisons’. Well, that’s exactly where we’ve been stuck by this law.”

Very roughly estimated, there are probably some 100 to 200 women in the whole of the Netherlands who wear the full on face covering veil. In my own Amsterdam neighbourhood, which does have a high percentage of people with a Muslim background, with a mosque only a few blocks away, there are one or two, perhaps three women I’ve seen wearing this. Even if we accept the prejudices of those arguing for a ban, this is not a real problem. But then of course it’s meant as a distraction from the very real problems our country is facing,what with the economy and having a rightwing government with no ideas how to handle these problems other than by keep on cutting spending even when it’s clear this is counterproductive.

For the politicians pushing this, not just Geert Wilders, but supposedly respectable politicians like our prime minister Mark Rutte, this may not be an issue they take seriously other than to pull the whool over the electorate eyes, but for the women who’ll be caught in the backlash this will only make worse the racism and bigotry they’re already facing. After all, once the law has singled out a certain group of people as beyond the pale for how they look or act, it does encourage people to take justice in their own hands, as the French example shows, but we also know from closer to home. We have seen an increase in accepted casual racism and islamophobia once the politicians and opinion makers decided it was alright to break these taboos — and it’s not all stuff that has been bubbling under the surface before that. Having these sorts of negative examples and stereotypes of a certain population group fired at you day in day out matter. Having the law say that certain religious attributes are wrong matters even more.

Rerouting around censorship

Found in Yahoo Answers: a private school starts banning books. One student takes the law in her own hands and starts her own library:

I go to a private school that is rather strict. Recently, the principal and school teacher council released a (very long) list of books we’re not allowed to read. I was absolutely appalled, because a large number of the books were classics and others that are my favorites. One of my personal favorites, The Catcher in the Rye, was on the list, so I decided to bring it to school to see if I would really get in trouble. Well… I did but not too much. Then (surprise!) a boy in my English class asked if he could borrow the book, because he heard it was very good AND it was banned! This happened a lot and my locker got to overflowing with the banned books, so I decided to put the unoccupied locker next to me to a good use. I now have 62 books in that locker, about half of what was on the list. I took care only to bring the books with literary quality.

The story is three years old, but still inspiring to see somebody involved enough not to take censorship laying down. If the school library refuses to stock certain books because they’re anti-Christian, start your own library. Pretty cool.

Google: threat or menace

It’s a bit self serving, but this Torrentfreak article about Google censorship does raise a genuine concern about its power as the world’s number one search engine:

Apparently Google has decided that its users should not be searching for the keyword BitTorrent, so why list any results then? It’s the beginning of the end.

Jamie King, the founder of Vodo – a platform where artists can share their work with million of people at no cost – agrees with this assessment. Searching for one of their perfectly legal releases on Google used to suggest the word “torrent” with a link to the download page, but not anymore.

“Google already showed it will censor for the highest bidder — China Inc. springs to mind. Now it’s doing it for MPAA & Co.,” King told TorrentFreak.

“I guess it’s simple: our favorite search monopoly cares less about helping the thousands of independent creators who use BitTorrent to distribute legal, free-to-share content than they do about protecting the interests of Big Media in its death throes.”

If you’re not on Google, you’re effectively invisible on the internet. Google therefore has an inordinate amount of power, yet barely any accountability. As a commercial organisation, their only responsibility is to their bottom line, fluff about “not being evil” notwithstanding, Yet having say a nationalised version of Google would not fill me with confidence either. Google is one of the ‘net’s natural chokepoints and what we need to get if we want to keep the internet free is a decentralised Google. Think what might have happened had Google censored the news of the Egyptian revolution.

A tale of two kinds of victims

Charles and Camilla shocked at public anger aimed at them

A report about the attack by rioters on the car carrying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will be completed by Friday, the home secretary has said.

A victim of police brutality carried away by two London cops

No report on the attack by police on peaceful protesters will be completed by Friday, nor is any promised by the home secretary. The home secretary is however of the opinion that organised thugs infiltrated the protests.

In either case the violence perpetruated by the ruling classes on students and young people — ending of EMA grants, the raise in tuition fees — remains invisible, part of the “peaceful democratic process”.

Fear the demon teenager

Imagine if newspapers consistently stereotyped any other group this way:

The portrayal of teenage boys as “yobs” in the media has made the boys wary of other teenagers, according to new research.

Figures show more than half of the stories about teenage boys in national and regional newspapers in the past year (4,374 out of 8,629) were about crime. The word most commonly used to describe them was “yobs” (591 times), followed by “thugs” (254 times), “sick” (119 times) and “feral” (96 times).

Other terms often used included “hoodie”, “louts”, “heartless”, “evil” “frightening”, “scum”, “monsters”, “inhuman” and “threatening”.

The research – commissioned by Women in Journalism – showed the best chance a teenager had of receiving sympathetic coverage was if they died.

“We found some news coverage where teen boys were described in glowing terms – ‘model student’, ‘angel’, ‘altar boy’ or ‘every mother’s perfect son’,” the research concluded, “but sadly these were reserved for teenage boys who met a violent and untimely death.”

At the same time a survey of nearly 1,000 teenage boys found 85 per cent believed newspapers portray them in a bad light.

Media demonisation of youths is not new of course; it’s an old and venerable tradition with British tabloids. Mods/rockers, punks, hip-hop gangstas: every new subculture has been demonised in turn. But there’s also our media created obsession with safety: we cocoon our kids until they hit puberyt and then suddenly they’re all purse snatching knife criming yobbos: two sides of the same coin. Fear the other kids, keep our own safe at home. I’d hate to be a teenager right now, to be harassed and hassled everywhere I went just for being a teenager, having to be controlled all the time.

And teenagers are nearly powerless in our society as well. There is no Teenage Defense League after all, no real political consciousness of teenagers as an interest group. Most of them can’t even vote, so there’s nothing in it for politicians to cater for them. As the article goes on to mention:

The research found that – for all the coverage of teenage issues – the boys’ voices themselves were rarely heard in newspapers. Fewer than one in 10 articles about young people actually quoted young people or included their perspectives in the debate.

Fiona Bawden, the WiJ committee member who presented the research at the British Library, said: “When a photo of a group of perfectly ordinary lads standing around wearing hooded tops has become visual shorthand for urban menace, or even the breakdown of society, it’s clear teenage boys have a serious image problem.

It’s not surprising that teenagers have no voice in the newspapers: they don’t buy the papers, the papers’ advertisers are not interested in their business and therefore they are safe to be demonised. The market in action.

Holland is becoming a human rights pariah

That’s the conclusion an Amnesty International led symposium reached last Friday, due to our immigration policies and especially the detention of socalled illegal immigrants. Between eight and ten thousand immigrants are jailed each year without having comitted a crime and they stay there on average some 97 days, with twenty percent being in prison for half a year or longer. These are people who have applied for asylum or leave to remain but were rejected and/or who didn’t have the right kind of documents and I.D. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that many of those jailed will leave prison without being either deported or leave to remain, but are just thrown out on the streets again, to be jailed again the next time the police taks to them.

Once in prison you can’t do anything but sit in your cell. Neither work nor study is allowed, contact with the outside world is limited and there is little to no organised activity within prison. In some cases the detention centre is worse than a regular prison is ever allowed to be, which means murderers and rapists are treated better than people whose only fault was to not have the right kind of papers.

The criticism isn’t new, as it’s largely unchanged from the criticism in the 2008 Amnesty International report on migrant detention in the Netherlands (PDF). What’s worrying is that the current government is much more hardlined on migration, actually planning to make not having valid papers a crime. It also wants to “intensify” deportion policies i.e. wants to deport more people more often. Already the government tried to deport Iraki Chritians depsite having recieved a letter from the European Court of Human Rights forbidding this. Incidently the responsible minister, Gerd Leers, was once mayor of Maastricht but had to leave his post because of alleged corruption — nothing proven, but enough smoke that the city council was afraid to find fire and sacked him.

But that’s just a coincidence. It doesn’t matter whether Leers is corrupt or not, because we’ve seen the immigration policies of successive governments in the Netherlands only get worse during the past decade. For a certain part of the electorate, being tough on immigration is a good thing and whether or not the methods use are illegal or immortal is not important. With the PVV feeding the flames of xenophobia (loudly drumming on their desks during the emergency debate about the deportation of those Iraqi refugees) and our rightwing minority government dependent on their support, I expect things will be getting worser still. There certainly doesn’t seem to have been any great rush in improving migrant detention after the publication of Amnesty’s first report two years ago…